Travel Talk 

Embracing Jamaica

I awoke to the snarl of a speeding Seadoo – an unwelcome intrusion into my late morning snooze. Still jet-lagged from a seven-hour flight from Calgary and two-hour drive from Montego Bay airport to Ocho Rios, I silently cursed the Canadian technology that created those infernal machines.

It was the middle of the night and pitch dark when we arrived at the Riu Ocho Rios and I had no idea what to expect when I got up, bleary-eyed, and pulled open the blinds on our fifth-storey balcony.

The immaculate white and mauve wings of the hotel embrace a huge complex of pools, gardens, gazebos, and winding walkways where early-morning sun worshipers are beginning to appear. Beyond the pools and palm-lined sandy beach an inner lagoon reflects the morning sun in a hundred shades of turquoise and blue. And beyond the lagoon, giant breakers rolling in from the Caribbean Sea, crash against a protective outer reef. Jet-lagged or not, this was no time to be sleeping. We slipped into our bathing suits and headed for the beach.

"Hi Mon! A necklace for the lady? Very pretty."

"No thanks Mon."

"Hey Mon! My name Bob. Take good picture – you an' the lady."

"No thanks Bob."

The hawkers, who are allowed on the beach and water but not on the hotel grounds, are persistent but polite and move quickly on to other potential customers. I leave them on the beach, swim out to the line of buoys that define the safe swimming area, and float on my back in the warm salty water. In a flurry of foam and noise the Seadoo banks to a stop just outside the buoys.

"Hi Mon! You coma me. I give you fas ride. Big trill!"

I wave him on and he idles over to a nearby couple floating on air mattresses. Whether it’s the little guy eking out a living hawking beadwork and tie-dyed scarves on the beach, an entrepreneur selling rides on his Seadoo, or a giant multinational hotel chain selling all-inclusive holidays, Jamaica is a land of free enterprise and the tourist market is hot.

The five-star ClubHotel Riu Ocho Rios is Jamaica's newest all-inclusive resort. It opened in October 2005, only four months before our visit, and it was already in full operation. With 846 rooms it is the largest of three Jamaican hotels owned and operated by the Riu family. From its inception in 1953 the family-run business has grown from a small 80-bed hotel in Majorca to an international chain with 109 hotels and 17,000 employees. The Riu obviously has a formula that works, and the chain is still expanding to meet the growing demand for all-inclusive sun and beach holidays.

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